"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Travel in the Ancient World - Book Review

Historic Great Roman Bath in the Town of Bath.
It was almost a requirement for tourists in the ancient world to stop at inns near the local public baths.

A Distant Mirror
The closer we look at life thousands of years
ago the more it looks like today.

By Gary;

Being sick of politics I have jumped back into books.

Forget all the BS in history about kings, queens and wars. The everyday life of ordinary people is perhaps the most interesting, and under reported, part of history.

The book Travel in the Ancient World by Lionel Casson brings alive an entire segment of society and history that has been totally ignored - the travel industry.

The poor in ancient times and today do not travel much. True vacations were and are the pastime of the middle and upper classes of society. What is interesting is how extensive the ancient vacation industry was.

The author goes back to ancient Egypt and Greece where some of the first travel is recorded.

A large part of travel involved business. Another part of travel was government and military. Bureaucrats then and now were always on the road doing public business.

The Mediterranean was one giant collection trade routes over three continents. Everyone who could would jump on an outbound ship and in a few days be vacationing in Alexandria or Athens to see the sights.

The author documents local inns for the traveler. For example, Greek inns offered little more than a roof over your head. In many cases if you wanted to eat at the inn you needed to bring your own food. Guests wanting to wash off the dust of the road would go to the nearest public bath.

In the section on inns it was noted that travelers looks to lodging near public baths that were the center of life. A few inns were located conveniently near the public baths, but they were not for guests seeking peace and quite.

The Roman philosopher Seneca once rented lodgings over a bath, and his description of the noise that came up from below is hair raising:

  • "I live right now over a public bath. Just imagine every kind of human sound to make us hate our ears! When the muscular types work out and toss their lead weights, when they strain (or make believe they're straining), I hear the grunting, and whenever they let out the breath they've been holding in, there's the whistling and wheezing at maximum pitch. If it's a lazy type I'm up against, someone satisfied with the cheap massage given here, I have to hear the crack of the hand as it hits the shoulders, one sound when it's the flat of the hand, another when it's the cupped hand. But if a ball-player arrives on the scene and begins to count shots, then I am done for. Add the toughs looking for a fight, the thieves caught in the act, and the people who enjoy hearing themselves sing in the bath-tub. Add also the people who dive into the pool with a deafening splash. On top of all these, who at least make ordinary sounds, don't forget the hair-removal expert forever forcing out that thin screech of his to advertise his services and only shutting up when he's plucking a customer's armpits and can make someone else do the yelping for him. Then there is the drink seller with his various cries, the sausage seller, the cake seller, and all the managers of the restaurants, each hawking his wares with his own special intonation.

The Parthenon or the Pyramids, seeing the sights was often the main reason for travel. The author gives accounts of tourists visiting these and many more locations.

Religious trips took many people on the road and they left their graffiti behind. A certain Demetrius visiting Egypt in 28 B.C. wrote in Greek:

I, Demetrius, having coursed the fruit-giving Nile,
Came to Isis, whose power knows no end,
To ask her blesses remembrance for my every
Child, brother, sister and friend.

If you are tired of re-reading and re-hashing the same old historical junk on WWII or the Civil War then this book is for you.  Break some new ground and see old world with new eyes.

Tourist Graffiti in Egypt
Ancient tourists would put their names and messages all over Egyptian monuments such as:  "Telephos of Ialysus wrote this" or "Krateros, son of Leukaros, elephant hunter". 
Travelers also visited religious sites and left their words:  "I, Lucius Funisulanus Charisius, mayor of Hermonthis and Latopolis, heard Memnon twice, before the first hour and at the first hour, along with my wife Fulvia."

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